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Medical Device Tax Under Fire

January 9, 2017

A 2.3% excise tax on medical devices is among the many aspects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) likely to be repealed during the current congressional session. The tax was collected starting in 2013, with the intention of offsetting expected ACA-driven profits for companies benefiting from expanded federally-funded Medicare and Medicaid payments. However, Congress passed a two-year repeal of the tax that was enacted in 2015 in an effort led by legislators representing states, like Minnesota, with robust medical device industries. According to the Star Tribune, "With [medical device excise tax] collections set to start again in January 2018, [Republican GOP Representative Erik] Paulsen is going for the coup de grace with a GOP-controlled House, Senate and White House that have made repealing the ACA a top priority." The article notes that the bill's co-sponsors, Paulsen and Wisconsin Democrat Ron Kind, "adopted the industry’s talking points in opposing the tax as a job killer that also took money away from research and development."

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Prof. Susan M. Wolf

Prof. Wolf Appointed to National Academies Committee on Science, Engineering, Medicine and Public Policy

December 5, 2016

Consortium Chair Susan M. Wolf has been appointed to the National Academies' Committee on Science, Engineering, Medicine and Public Policy. This is the only committee that crosses all three academies – Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine – and includes the presidents of the three branches. According to their website, “the Committee is charged with the responsibility ‘to deliberate on initiatives for new studies in the area of science and technology policy, taking especially into account the concerns and requests of the President's Science Advisor, the Director of the NSF, the Chairman of the National Science Board, and the chairmen of key science and technology-related committees of the Congress.’” In addition to chairing the Consortium, Prof. Wolf is the McKnight Presidential Professor of Law, Medicine & Public Policy; Faegre Baker Daniels Professor of Law; and Professor of Medicine. She is an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine. 

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Medicine capsules

CMS Head Takes Tough Stance on Rising Drug Prices

November 4, 2016

Last night, Andy Slavitt, Acting Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), addressed the annual Biopharma Congress in Washington, DC. His talk was titled "The Need to Partner on Drug Innovation, Access and Cost." In it, Slavitt addressed what he called "pervasive" cost increases, noting: "Despite all the attention it has generated this year, Mylan’s Epipen is not even on our top 20 list for either high price increases or spending overall in 2015." Rising public outcry and state-level budget crises have led to congressional hearings about the reasons behind spiraling prices; the issue has been especially prominent during the current presidential election. Slavitt cautioned conference attendees, the majority of whom work in the pharmaceutical industry, that he's no longer comfortable defending Big Pharma. He noted that in the past, "I didn’t want this industry to be defined by its worst actors. . . but the more data that’s revealed, the more bad actors you find, and I’m telling you now: it’s too many." What is to be done? According to Modern Healthcare, despite policy positions held by both major-party candidates, significant change is unlikely because of the power of the pharmaceutical industry and ideological divisions in the legislative branch.  

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New Models for Funding Science Research Proposed

October 14, 2016

An article in The Conversation poses an urgent question: In light of declining federal support, is it time for a new funding model for scientific research in higher education? The answer, according to University of Minnesota Vice President for Research Brian Herman and Claudia Neuhauser, Associate Vice President for Research, is a resounding yes: "The hard fact is that there’s just not enough R&D money available to support the higher ed research capabilities our country has built." The dilemma, however, is that despite efforts to diversify funding sources to include business, philanthropy and other nonprofits, those types of partners rarely subsidize the basic research that "provides the necessary foundation for many of the products and services that contribute to the nation’s wealth." Herman and Neuhauser explore several solutions, including closer collaboration between research universities and radically redefining the "shared value" of research and development to both academic and private enterprise. Read the entire article here

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Drugmakers Use Legislative Strategies to Weaken Opioid Regulation

September 21, 2016

A new, in-depth investigation by the Center for Public Integrity and the Associated Press details the methods by which pharmaceutical companies and their allies weaken and defeat restrictions on opioid access. According to the article, "Deaths linked to addictive drugs like OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet had increased more than fourfold since 1999, accounting for more fatal overdoses in 2012 than heroin and cocaine combined." Part one of the two-article series describes "a statehouse playbook of delay and defend that includes funding advocacy groups that use the veneer of independence to fight limits on the drugs," a strategy executed by "an annual average of 1,350 lobbyists in legislative hubs from 2006 through 2015." Part two focuses on similar efforts at the federal level, outlining how drug lobbies "reinforced their influence with more than $140 million doled out to political campaigns. That combined spending on lobbying and campaigns amounts to more than 200 times the $4 million spent during the same period by the handful of groups that work for restrictions on painkillers. Meanwhile, opioid sales reached $9.6 billion last year." The spike in opioid deaths has led President Obama to declare Sept. 18-24 Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week and request $1.1 billion in new funding for treatment programs. 

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Massoud Amin on Implications of 1977 New York City Blackout

September 15, 2016

A short film featuring Dr. Massoud Amin of the U's Technological Leadership Institute is a powerful reminder of the importance of reliable electricity to society (you can view the film here). Its subject is the 25-hour July, 1977 New York City blackout; Dr. Amin was in the city when it occurred and discusses what he witnessed and how it relates to his life's work to improve the US power grid and advocate for robust infrastructure. During the blackout, which was caused by a lightning strike, chaos reigned. According to the New York Times, "1,000 fires were reported, 1,600 stores were damaged in looting and rioting and 3,700 people were arrested. Neighborhoods from East Harlem to Bushwick were devastated. The authorities later estimated that the total cost of the blackout exceeded $300 million."

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Creating an Ethical Framework for Artificial Intelligence

September 6, 2016

A new group in the high-tech industry is laying the groundwork for the ethical use of artificial intelligence (AI). An article in the New York Times notes, "While science fiction has focused on the existential threat of A.I. to humans, researchers at Google’s parent company, Alphabet, and those from Amazon, Facebook, IBM and Microsoft have been meeting to discuss more tangible issues, such as the impact of A.I. on jobs, transportation and even warfare." The group is trying to get ahead of government regulation, in hopes self-policing will minimize the need for formal legal or statutory measures. One of the tools they're using is a report out of Stanford University, One Hundred Year Study on Artificial Intelligence, which reassuringly states "Contrary to the more fantastic predictions for AI in the popular press, the Study Panel found no cause for concern that AI is an imminent threat to humankind." 

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Law School Dean Garry Jenkins

New Dean Wants to Reclaim Leadership for Lawyers

August 22, 2016

In an interview in Minnesota Lawyer, the new dean of the University of Minnesota Law School, Garry Jenkins, acknowledges he needs to spend time listening and getting to know students, faculty, and administrators. Having only been in Minnesota for two weeks, a learning curve is inevitable. However, Jenkins brings a rich and diverse background to the job, having worked as an attorney with the New York law firm of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, as chief operating officer and general counsel of the Goldman Sachs Foundation, and most recently, as associate dean for academic affairs at Ohio State University's law school. His breadth of experience will serve him well as he manages changes in legal education and launches new academic programs. Beyond those core areas, Dean Jenkins has another item on his agenda: teaching lawyers leadership skills. According to Jenkins, "We all have the capacity to be leaders and I would love to see the graduates of the state’s flagship law school be a critically important source of leadership in this country. . . . It’s a field that we have ceded to business schools and to me that never felt right." Read the entire interview here.

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African American soldier in Vietnam -era uniform

The Hidden Social Costs of an Unequal Military

August 19, 2016

A new paper by Douglas L. Kriner of Boston University and Francis X. Shen, a Consortium affilate faculty member and professor at the University of Minnesota Law School, takes an empirical look at the results of socioeconomic disparities in military service. In "Invisible Inequality: The Two Americas of Military Sacrifice," the authors analyze large existing data sets, including 500,000 American combat casualties over the past 70 years, which reveal that "today, unlike in World War II, the Americans who die or are wounded in war are disproportionately coming from poorer parts of the country." The authors also conducted original surveys of public opinion "to uncover a variety of social, legal, and political consequences of this inequality" and why it is "routinely overlooked by scholars, policymakers, and the public." Read a PDF of the article here.

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Donald Trump

The Ethics of Diagnosing Trump from Afar

August 16, 2016

The current election cycle is raising challenging questions about the role of psychiatric diagnosis in public debate, one reminiscent of arguments during the 1964 candidacy of Barry Goldwater. According to the New York Times, "In the midst of a deeply divisive presidential campaign, more than 1,000 psychiatrists declared the Republican candidate unfit for the office, citing severe personality defects, including paranoia, a grandiose manner and a Godlike self-image. . . . After losing in a landslide, the candidate sued the publisher of Fact magazine, which had published the survey, winning $75,000 in damages. But doctors attacked the survey, too, for its unsupported clinical language and obvious partisanship." In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association adopted what is commonly known as the Goldwater Rule, which "prohibits psychiatrists from offering opinions on someone they have not personally evaluated." However, some mental health workers feel Donald Trump and his ideology are so dangerous they're ethically required to speak out, pointing out the aspects of his behavior they find concerning: racism, manipulation, narcissism, hypermasculinity and an inability to deal appropriately with anger. Despite the Goldwater Rule, a manifesto written by University of Minnesota psychology professor William Doherty has been signed by 2,200 mental health professionals; Prof. Doherty says he believes the current election is exceptional, noting "What we have here is a threat to democracy itself." Read the complete article here

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U Professors Shine a Spotlight on Racial Disparities

July 21, 2016

In the wake of another fatal police shooting of an African-American man, Philando Castile, who was killed during a traffic stop in a Twin Cities suburb, there's been an increased focus on racial inequities in Minnesota. One of the scholars with the longest history of studying these issues, Myron Orfield, JD, is on the faculty of the University of Minnesota's Law School; since Castile's death, Orfield has been widely interviewed discussing housing segregation, unequal policy enforcement, and other aspects of the state's institutionalized racism. Minnesota suffers from a yawning academic achievement gap between white students and students of color; the worst record of financial inequity in the nation; and a serious problem with socioeconomic and health disparities. A recent lecture hosted by the Consortium, by Prof. Sidney Watson, JD (University of St. Louis Law School) describes tools in the Affordable Care Act to increase health justice; that talk can be viewed online

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Registration Open for Challenge of Science Leadership Workshop

June 17, 2016

Consortium member the Institute on the Environment (IonE) will host a three-day workshop, The Challenge of Science Leadership, from August 30 through September 1, 2016 on the St. Paul campus. The course is designed for scientists, academics and professionals working in the environment and sustainability sectors, and will be taught by the UK-based Barefoot Thinking Company. This interactive and practical training will focus on creative and strategic thinking; tools for influencing behavior; and effective strategies for enabling action. The curriculum grows out of Barefoot’s work with the Leopold Leadership Program, Google.org, the VEGA Fellows Leadership and Communication Program in Sweden, the University of Toronto’s Science Leadership Program, and others. Learn more and register here

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Scientific Research Funding Increased in 2016 Budget

January 4, 2016

An editorial by Vice President for Research Brian Herman in The Hill outlines positive news for research universities, including the University of Minnesota. The federal 2016 Omnibus Budget recently passed by Congress includes "meaningful increases for organizations such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF)." This reverses a years-long trend of reductions in government funding for scientific research resulting from budget sequestration from FY13-FY15 and inflation, which affects the biomedical sector disproportionally. VP Herman lauds the bill as providing "a much-needed boost to key science agencies that fund university research across the nation," noting that in fiscal 2015 more than 60 percent of research at the University was funded by federal sources. 

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Human Research Conference Points the Way Forward

December 3, 2015

Several hundred people attended yesterday's conference "Research with Human Participants: The National Debates" at the University of Minnesota, with hundreds more participating by webcast. Renowned scholars and policymakers discussed the complexities of obtaining informed consent, the nuances of conflicts of interest, and the ways those engaged in research can and should build a more robust infrastructure for clinical trials. Keynotes by Jeffrey R. Botkin, chair of the federal Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Human Research Protections (SACHRP) and Scott Y. H. Kim of the National Institutes for Health (NIH) were followed by several moderated panels including extensive question and answer periods. The conference was planned and hosted by the Consortium and sponsored by the Office of the Vice President for Research with the goal of identifying ways to improve protections for research participants; videos of all sessions will be posted on the Consortium's website the week of Dec. 7. 

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Consortium-led Research Influences Federal Policy on Human Participant Research

October 27, 2015

Proposed new revisions to the Common Rule on research with human participants, which governs federal policy and regulations, include recommendations resulting from a major, NIH grant led by the Consortium. The goal of the revisions is to modernize and strengthen the Common Rule in response to dramatic changes to research over the past 30 years, including the emergence of genomics. The proposed rules cite scholarship, led by Consortium Chair Susan M. Wolf, offering guidance to oversight bodies regarding the return of individual research results to participants. Read the recommendations that sparked the proposed policy here